I’m not sure how Stonington’s public water line system is laid out today, but back in the ’30s and ’40s, the standpipe was an integral part of the system. The standpipe provided head pressure for the entire water system. It was located at the highest point in town just north of the village off Sunset Road, plus it was about 50 or 60 feet tall and about 20 feet in diameter.
Every so often the standpipe would be drained and cleaned. When they did this, we kids would plan to be there. First they had to shut down the pump from Burntland Pond. The manhole cover on the side and near the bottom would then slowly be unbolted enough so that it drained OK and, as the water level lowered, eventually be removed altogether. Workers could then crawl through the manhole and proceed to clean up the inside of the standpipe. The standpipe had an open top, so there was no danger of persons inside suffering from lack of oxygen.
The fact that the standpipe was open at the top leads to the interesting part of the story. It isn’t every gull that has a private fresh-water swimming pool and bath tub, but our gulls apparently did and they enjoyed it to the fullest. I remember watching the cleanup crew remove a dead gull or two from the bottom of the tank, along with a heavy layer of mud and dead leaves.
I don’t recall anybody getting sick from drinking the water, but I do recall that we regularly got water bottles filled from the spring on the Sunset Road and later on at the Burnt Cove Market. My mother always cooked with the spring water, and we used it for drinking too. I do remember using town water for taking a shower, and it always had a taste and odor all its own. I did hear once that some of those who drank the water regularly developed dispositions similar to what gulls have—not good.
All of what I have said here may be the result of a young boy with an overactive imagination. You know how it can be when you’re standing around with a bunch of men watching a tank drain, and all of a sudden a dead gull pops out. That’s how stories get started.
Montelle L. “Monty" Small